A story of neglect
By Moshe Arens, Haaretz, July 28, 2008
Over 41 years have passed since, in the wake of the Six-Day War, the Israeli government extended the municipal borders of Jerusalem to the east, north and south. This expansion led to the inclusion of a large Arab population within the city’s boundaries. Jerusalem was officially enlarged and united, but has in large measure remained divided to this day.
Successive governments have wanted to see Jerusalem united on the map without understanding that this must also involve integrating the Arab population residing in the new, expanded areas into the city – which in effect means its integration into Israel. Almost nothing was done over the years to bring this about. Most of the Israeli left only thought of ridding Israel of this territory, while most of the right preferred to look at the amount of land that was annexed while ignoring the Arab population residing there.
The first mayor of Jerusalem to inherit the new borders, Teddy Kollek, made some effort to approach the local Arab population and to encourage it to vote in the municipal elections. His successors, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski, preferred neglect to attention. Indeed, the policy of neglect is reflected in the gallery of portraits of former mayors that decorate the Jerusalem Municipality: Kollek, Olmert, Mordechai Ish-Shalom, Gershon Agron, Yitzhak Kariv, Zalman Shragai, Daniel Auster. As if their Arab predecessors had not existed. But the latter – and, for that matter, the entire Arab population of Jerusalem – cannot be wished away.
The challenge of integrating Jerusalem’s Arab residents into the city cannot be overestimated, and the directions that need to be taken are obvious: equalizing the municipal services provided to Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, as well as welfare, health-care and educational services. Also, there is a need for instituting the Israeli curriculum and the supervision of the Ministry of Education in the Arab schools, for encouraging the participation of the Arab population in municipal elections, and for urging the Arab population to take out Israeli citizenship.
All this could probably have been done only gradually, but in fact almost nothing was done during the past four decades. This is a story of utter neglect, based on the wishful thinking that the city could be united without all its residents being integrated into its fabric.
Possibly the most blatant example of this is the Shuafat refugee camp, which was included in Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Here was an opportunity for Israel to set an example of how the Palestinian refugee problem should be dealt with. The whole area should have been rebuilt and proper housing should have been provided so as to obviate the need for UN services. But to Israel’s shame the camp is still there after 41 years – a part of Israel. Like the Arab population in Jerusalem, it cannot be wished away.
These reflections have been provoked by the three recent acts of terror committed by Arab residents of Jerusalem. Nobody could argue that had Israeli governments dedicated themselves to doing all the things mentioned above in improving the conditions of this population, these acts of terror would not have been committed. Under the influence of the Islamic Movement even some Arabs, citizens of Israel, living within the pre-Six-Day-War borders, have participated over the years in acts of terrorism against Israel’s Jewish citizens.
It is well known that the equivalent of the Islamic Movement, Hamas, is at this time active and popular among the Jerusalem Arab population, and no doubt encourages them to violence against Israel. But it is equally clear that had progress been made over the years in properly absorbing the Jerusalem Arab population into Israel, the task facing the Palestinian extremists would have been more difficult.
The fence that is being built around Jerusalem does not in any way alleviate the problem. It only exacerbates it. Jerusalem’s Arab population – rightfully feeling that the policy of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality discriminates against it – is being fenced in. Nothing good can come of that. And the destruction of the homes of the families of the perpetrators of recent acts of terror will only breed bitterness and resentment.
Those who believe that Jerusalem should not be divided, and mean by that that the Arab neighborhoods should not be separated from the city, should be the first to insist that an active policy be adopted by the government and the municipality to improve the lot of local Arab residents. Barring that, Jerusalem will continue to remain a divided city.